What Young Women Do Understand

“Young women today don’t understand.” Oh, but we do.

Greg Zulkie / Creative Commons

In one sense, that we apparently “don’t understand” should be a testament to the work of the women who came before—those who made the world a little better than they found it. But in a much larger sense, suggesting we “don’t understand” negates the fact that young women today are acutely aware of the pain and systemic problems that run so deep in our society—that they are the very fabric of our society. It discredits and silences the leadership of the remarkable young women who lead and it also undermines the work of the women who paved the way. It clouds the reality that through the pain and the systemic barriers, young women push forward—not just far enough to resist, but far enough to create anew.

While young women will never truly understand what it was like to live at any other moment in time, just like we will never truly understand what it means to walk in our sisters’ shoes, we understand what’s at stake. We are learning, we are teaching and we are standing by each other’s sides to carry our truths forward.

We aren’t hiding our heads in the sand—we are holding them a little higher as the women around us fuel our strength and accept these truths. We aren’t sticking our fingers in our ears and screaming to drown out the noise—we are picking up the phones and posters and creating the noise. Young women today understand the world around us for what it is, and are committed to fighting for what it could be.

Young women not only understood, but also led when they carried banners and mattresses across stages at graduation to raise awareness for sexual violence and hold their universities accountable.

Young women not only understood, but also led when they responded to racist violence with planning marches, organizing an occupation of the student union, lobbying the University Assembly, and delivering a list of demands to the university president.

Young women not only understood, but also led when they got arrested for protesting health care repeal efforts and for centering disability rights in the national conversation.

Young women not only understood, but also led when they traveled to DC to call on Congress to act on college affordability and to actually represent their constituents.

Young women not only understood, but also led when they campaigned for their university to establish gender-neutral housing.

These stories of the young women who lead are not the exceptions. They aren’t making headlines because they are novelties for fluff pieces. They are making headlines because they are making an impact. These young women show strength and vulnerability—and strength through their vulnerability. They take every opportunity to make their voices heard and fight for new opportunities to be heard.

Through it all, these women live the ideals of feminist leadership: of having the audacity to lead when others think you cannot; of having the audacity to reach for more than the world tells you you’re worth.

To the women who paved the way: You empowered us to have this audacity. I hope you’ll trust that we too want to make the world a little better than we found it.

Jennifer Mandelblatt is the Co-Founder and Managing Director of Platform, a new training and lobby group for and by young women. With Platform, Jennifer works with an incredible team that continuously reminds her of the power of women coming together to support, celebrate, learn from and challenge each other to be better advocates for ourselves and better allies to those around us. She graduated from Cornell’s ILR School this past May, where she studied labor relations.

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